The work was created and presented for the Clyde meets Elbe exhibition in Cuxhaven, as part of the 34 Knots year long public art program.
The residency invited 8 artists from Glasgow and New Zealand to live together for 3 weeks in the Amerikahafen and to develop site responsive work for Cuxhaven’s historical Steubenhoft, a former terminal building for people emigrating from Europe wide to America by ship.
Hande Schwarmen considers the act of watching, creating moments of visibility that subtly interrupt the noisy skyline of Cuxhaven provoking a curiosity or reminder of the Steubenhofts quiet punctuation of this view.
Arriving in a seemingly vast but empty space, rich in history but otherwise vacant it was a surprise in the first days we occupied the building to bump into a minority of people who still lived in the space or volunteered time to protect its story. We didn’t know of them and they didn’t know of us. Working in the walls of a building they care so much for despite its loneliness, the inclusion and relationship between this small group of people and the artwork seamed significant. This work responds to that initial concern and the challenge of engaging with this invisible interior audience. From the barrier of language came the development of an invitation for a simple gesture, to draw the outline of their hands. Bringing these visual forms together their fingers become static silhouettes of birds, struggling with flight in the form of a flag on the dormant central mast. The mast that the resident family live below. The mast they once hoisted a flag on every working day.
As a partner to the project two sets of binocular stands, fixed in focus on the flag are located to create a bridge between the space and its busy neighbour Alte Liebe. Binoculars are commonly used in Cuxhaven, but seldom to look at anything except the ships at sea. This fixed view offers the chance to turn a moment’s focus back onto the city itself. The binoculars function in collaboration with workers at the entrance to Elbe 1, who both oversee their functionality and provide information to visitors about the work of the Kunstverein and how to access the exhibition. This cooperation underlines the duel intention of the project, both to observe but also to actively encourage people to visit the steubenhoft. The work is framed through a play on the activity of bird watching, where the origin of these bird species and the anatomical details of the individual hands are referenced on an identification poster.
Flags are statements, politically or in announcement of a national identity. Flags are sold and flown throughout the city and its surrounding ocean. In contrast to the colours that symbolise whole countries this flag flies for 12 people who were trusting with their hands, but as an invitation to the whole city. The flags fragility against the summer storms is a statement of the risk taking required in transformation and re-imagining the future of our historical public places.
The hands wave both historically in reference to the millions who migrated from here and in recognition of the present and prospects of the town, twisting like the turbines in the wind.
For more information; http://kunstverein-cuxhaven.net/